Frienemy (frenemy) - according to Wikipedia, a portmanteau of "friend" and "enemy"
Everyone has frienemies in their lives.Frienemies come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Best friends for life who envy you and (sub)consciously want you to fail. Enemies who befriend you to earn your trust while they learn enough about you to ruin your life. Frienemies are not relationships you want or seek and there are dozens of sites purporting ways to keep frienemies at bay.
Many of the measures you can take to minimize your exposure to frienemies don't apply in the workplace. You can't always choose your associates or team mates. Invariably, you'll encounter situations where associates are adversaries, competing against you for recognition, advancement, or continued employment. Some adversociates simply have a different (and often unflinching) perspective regarding a project, deliverable, or product. No matter what the shape or form, you can't rid your life of adversociates as easily (easily?) as you would a frienemy.
Consultants can choose clients, but may encounter adversociates among their clients' staff or 3rd party service providers *after* accepting the work. Such folks may be indignant or fearful of what a consultant will recommend, or how the consultant's recommendations will affect recognition, advancement, budget, and span of control. Unless a consultant manages relationships early in the engagement process, such adversociates can challenge consultants every step along the way. The best case scenario resulting from "adversociates run amok" is needless delay in meeting the client's expectations. The worst case is that the consultant will fail to deliver the work product he was contracted to provide.
I'm no expert in managing business relationships; however, I will share four strategies I used to preempt adversociate behavior when I've initially engaged with staff whom I would work closely on projects. I learned more than a few of these working with or observing my longtime business partner and friend, Lisa Phifer.
Listen twice as much as you speak. I can't find a definitive origin for this excellent advice, but it works to my advantage. Give everyone an opportunity to express opinions and concerns. You'll learn about personalities, expertise, agendae, alliances and competing factions and more. The more you know about the parties involved in the project, the better.
Learn the roles each staff member plays. Ask staff members to explain what they do, why they are involved in the project, and what contribution they hope to make. Convey to each staffer that you'll treat him as the SME for the knowledge he professes to have. Make him feel engaged and accountable for providing information and support.
Get your hands dirty. As a technology consultant, look for opportunities for IT staff to show you their shop. Listen carefully while they give you a hard look under the hood. As hokey as it sounds, this techie bonding really helps on projects where you'll have to compete for time and attention with daily operations priorities. Such opportunities also expose you to operational practices, corporate culture, or work flows in an unthreatening atmosphere, where you can observe or collect information that may ultimately shape or influence a client deliverable.
Be honest about the limitations of your expertise. IT folks are mostly hard to bluff and rather unforgiving if you bluff and fail. Conversely, you'll rarely be treated gruffly if you say, "I'm not familiar with that but it sounds really interesting. Explain..."
Develop and stick to a game plan. My notion of a positive consulting outcome includes the following: the client's objectives were met, I learned something new, I was able to expand my network of technology buffs, and I had fun along the way.
Just as everyone has frenemies in their lives, most everyone will encounter adversociates at some point during their career. By recognizing and turning would be adversociates into colleagues, I'm confident I've encountered fewer than I would have.